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Caring for Community

Boys & Girls Clubs Focus on Fortitude

Since the global pandemic forced the closure of local schools in the spring of 2020, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Conejo Valley has not only remained open but has expanded its schedule to serve youth Monday through Friday with the exception of major holidays.

“We only closed two days in March (of 2020),” says Dr. Crystal Nāone, President & Chief Executive Officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Conejo Valley. “We are guided by our mission to do everything we possibly can to support our youth, families and employees in coping with and emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic whole and even more resilient than before the crisis hit.”

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Conejo Valley currently serves children at two locations in Calabasas, as well as all four middle schools in Thousand Oaks.

“We are there for children during the hours when schools are closed,” Dr. Nāone says. Prior to Covid, “typically, kids would come to our clubs before school, during lunchtime and after school. When schools shut their doors, we opened from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. In the summer we had to cut back and have been open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. since then.”

For children engaged in 100% virtual learning, “we are supporting them with their Zoom work,” says Dr. Nāone, adding that the staff has been trained to assist children with virtual studies so they don’t fall behind in class.

When club members complete virtual learning for the day, the Boys & Girls Club supplements their education with science, writing and reading. In the afternoon, the club provides enrichment activities that engage children through art, sports, leadership and performing arts.

“We figure out what kids really love and make sure that we have opportunities in those areas available for them,” Dr. Nāone says. “We’re doing all these programs in addition to helping them remain on-task during their virtual learning with their teachers.”

It’s important to note that the club’s six open locations are physically and emotionally safe spaces that are 100% in compliance with CDC recommendations at all times.

“We take safety seriously and are taking extra precautions to keep our members safe during these uncertain times,” says Dr. Nāone, further adding that members are placed in small, consistent cohorts throughout the month to minimize exposure. “As a result, we have had zero cases of Covid transmission in our clubs.”

Social-emotional learning for children is also a huge emphasis, with youth honing skills in areas such as self-management, responsible decision-making and self-awareness.

“We started socialemotional learning with our organization in 2019. We teach the kids these skills so they can apply them to their relationships—peer-to-peer and at home with their families,” Dr. Nāone says. “This saved us during Covid, because kids became mentally stressed and overwhelmed like we’ve never seen before.”

Another aspect never seen before was the rising need for financial assistance. The Boys & Girls Club has long offered scholarships for children whose families cannot afford to participate, and because of this, “nobody gets turned away,” Dr. Nāone says. As a result of the pandemic, “we went from about half the kids in our clubs being on some form of scholarship to 80-90% … families who needed us most tapped into this assistance.”

Many people assume that the Boys & Girls Club is well-funded, she notes, “because we have a lot of great supporters and they showed up for us as heroes last year with donations.” However, “it’s so much more expensive to run programs from 8 to 5, full day, every day. Plus, in terms of staffing, we have to have a one to six ratio, instead of a one to 25 ratio.”

Because this year marks the club’s 20th anniversary, donations are being sought through a monthly program, in which “our goal is to get 2,000 donors to give $20 a month.”

Looking back on the effects of the global pandemic, Dr. Nāone believes “people experienced loss in a way that no one alive has experienced before. There was real loss and we should take the time to honor and feel those emotions in order to heal and develop some level of resiliency.”

It’s important to remain hopeful, she further emphasizes.

“Look around outside at the incredible place we live in. Take count of all your good friends and family. Pay attention to and count the blessings that still exist.”

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